THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Asked what stands out about the play of the Rams' offensive line through the first two weeks of the season, quarterback Matthew Stafford didn't take long to find its defining attribute.
"The biggest thing for me is playing physical," Stafford said Thursday.
Whatever way it's described, that identity of the offensive line has played a big part in keeping Stafford's jersey clean through the first two weeks of the season.
Among quarterbacks with at least 50 pass attempts so far this season, Stafford ranks eighth in dropback success rate – what Next Gen Stats (NGS) defines as percentage of dropbacks resulting in positive Expected Points added. NGS says this can be thought of as plays that "keep the offense on schedule."
That success rate has translated to Stafford being second in the NFL in passing first downs with 34. He is also fourth in the NFL in completions (58) and third in passing yards (641).
Stafford acknowledged that it's "never going to be perfect" from a pass protection standpoint – especially when playing against a defensive front like the 49ers' – but that doesn't necessarily mean it has to be for him to have the time he needs to make the throws he needs to make.
"It's never going to be just these pristine pockets against a group that's got four or five first-rounders on it and their number one goal is just pin their ears back and get to the quarterback," Stafford said. "But so many times I can think when I'm looking back watching the tape the next day of just peeling hits off me, peeling hits off the backs, whatever it is. Our guys have done a hell of a job just playing really physical, straining a little bit longer and yeah, they might get beat on an inside move or something but just being able to push them by me and not taking a full helmet to the chest shot on something is huge for me."
So far, the Rams are tied for second in fewest offensive lines allowed (1), have the second-lowest quarterback sack rate (1.1%), have allowed the 10th-fewest pressures (31), and rank 10th in pressures allowed per dropback (31.6%) according to TruMedia Sports.
Team captain and starting right tackle Rob Havenstein said the identity of the group is similar to the way the identity of the entire team has shaken out, and how head coach Sean McVay has been setting it in practice.
"Every day, it's just competition," Havenstein said. "It's just getting out there, and there's no real – obviously, everyone expects to go out there and play well, but like, our expectation is to go out there and compete to the best of your ability every single play. And when it doesn't happen on one certain play, 'okay, great, figure out what went wrong and try to fix it,' and then go compete the next snap, and then the next step, and the next snap until the game's over. And that's something I think is our guys, especially our young guys, have been doing awesome (with)."
Beyond mindset, that physicality also manifests itself through the concepts in the Rams' run game as well as pass protection. One of those young players, rookie Steve Avila, told theRams.com that "pass pro is not passive," and that's reinforced with specific clips.
"There's a lot of clips of us, we're coming off on defensive ends when we're helping out the center, coming off and hitting them," Avila said. "I mean, that's how you establish authority over a team. That's definitely something we're trying to do."
That effort has not gone unnoticed by Stafford.
"It's one of those things that has to work in concert together, and those guys are doing a hell of a job just staying on, being physical, and fighting to the finish, which is good for us," Stafford said.